GLENDALE, Ariz. – Chicago coach Joel Quenneville has juggled some of his forward lines and big names early in the season, but he's kept the third line of Bryan Bickell, Dave Bolland and Michael Frolik intact.
Of course, there is no reason to mess with success and that line is having a lot of it right now.
Bolland scored his fourth goal in four games – an unassisted, shorthanded bomb 2:27 into the third period -- and Bickell, set up by his linemates, extended his scoring streak to four games with a goal less than seven minutes later as the Blackhawks dominated Phoenix all night as their glue line helped them break open a 5-2 win against the Coyotes.
The turning point of the game came early in the third period, when the Blackhawks not only held the Coyotes without a shot on back-to-back power plays but extended their 3-2 lead when Bolland picked Radim Vrbata's pocket at the Phoenix blue line, walked in alone to the top of the circle and blew a rocket past Coyotes goalie Jason LaBarbera to give the Blackhawks their first two-goal lead of the game despite controlling play all the way.
"It's a huge advantage to score on the PK. It gets the guys going on the bench and really gives you a boost," said Bolland, who missed the season-opener with an injury. "Then out line is able to get another one and Bick puts a great shot over the glove … playing with those guys has been great."
The trio is already being compared with the top No. 3 lines in the NHL, and Bolland doesn't mind the talk. "I think as of right now we could be … but to keep it that way we have to keep on rolling and playing our game. All three of us just click and we're rolling. With Bick and his big body and ‘Fro' with his good vision and good speed, playing with those guys has been tremendous."
LaBarbera had been 4-0-0 with a 2.01 goals-against average against Chicago, but was target practice this time. Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews and Jamal Mayers also scored for Chicago, which outshot Phoenix 15-4 in the first period and never looked back.
Taylor Pyatt and Ray Whitney scored for the Coyotes, who were outshot 35-16 and had a three-game unbeaten streak snapped – decisively. Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford needed just 14 saves to keep his goals-against average under two in his first four starts. In its two losses this season, Phoenix has been outshot 87-45 and outclassed by San Jose and Chicago.
"That wasn't what I expected out of our group," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "Our execution was poor. Some of that was the tempo that Chicago played at and the lack of tempo that we played at. We played slow, which plays right into their hands."
Games between Chicago and Phoenix had a tightly-contested and low-scoring history. The teams had played eight straight games decided by two goals or less (with four shootouts) and all four last season were one-goal affairs, with two decided by shootouts. There was no need for a shootout this time, as the Blackhawks did all the shooting.
Hossa, a game-time decision due to an upper-body injury, started the scoring with a 5-on-3 power-play goal in the first period after Coyotes Adrian Aucoin and Lauri Korpikoski took penalties 52 seconds apart. Patrick Sharp set up Hossa for a one-timer that beat LaBarbera between the pads at 15:06, snapping a string of 17 straight Phoenix penalty kills dating back to the Oct. 8 opener against the Sharks. Hossa now has 11 goals and 18 points in 21 career games against Phoenix.
The Coyotes, who had just four first-period shots and only one in the final 12 minutes, started better in the second when Pyatt stuffed home the rebound of David Schlemko's shot just 45 seconds into the period. But Chicago answered just 2:41 later when LaBarbera failed to control a soft shot by Andrew Brunette and left the puck sitting for Toews, who poked in the gift at 3:26 for his second goal of the season.
Phoenix tied the game again at 7:48 when Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith lost his balance and the puck in his own and Phoenix's Daymond Langkow fed Whitney in the slot. Whitney fluttered the puck over Crawford's shoulder for his third goal in three games. But Keith atoned for the error just 48 seconds later, putting a shot on net that Mayers deflected down and underneath LaBarbera to put Chicago back in front.
"We outshot them by quite a bit and did what we had to do to win, but we know we can play a better team game," Keith said. "We're happy to get the big road win and the two points, but you can see the things that need work.
The Coyotes sealed their fate in the first four minutes of the third period. Handed back-to-back power plays thanks to penalties on Hossa and Sharp, Phoenix not only was outshot 4-0 but fell further behind when Bolland made his big play.
"We talked about it after two periods how we were still one goal away," said Pyatt, who has a goal and two assists in the last three games. "Then we have opportunities on the power play and we wind up allowing a goal and it totally deflated us. We have to find a way to get some consistency in our game."